This weekend just past was a rarity being one where I had absolutely nothing planned. Normally my weekends are filled with things to do, places to go, people to see. Not that I am complaining. Weekends are my time and I like to lots of things and enjoying getting out and going to different places. I had briefly entertained the thought of going to work on Saturday morning for a few hours overtime but sometimes the money just isn't enough. Dragging myself into the office for five days a week at the moment is sapping what is left of my motivation.
So I spent Saturday and Sunday mainly catching up on DVD's that I've been meaning to watch plus listening to the radio and catching a fascinating and disturbing documentary on BBC 2 last night and a little studying on Sunday morning, although really I should have devoted more of my time to this.
I am working my way through Season Five of The West Wing on DVD currently and it is perhaps the most uneven of the series so far, although still fantastic and gripping drama. This series' focus on CJ Cregg, the White House Press Secretary (played by the wonderful Alison Janney) is pleasing as she is my favourite character of the ensemble. I am attracted to intelligent, beautiful and powerful women, well who wouldn't be?! Hence my crush on Gillian Anderson in The X-Files and rather embarrassingly my one time fascination with Kate Mulgrew as Captain Janeway in Star Trek: Voyager.
Anyhows back to The West Wing generally. As I mentioned this season is a little uneven and one of my main criticisms is how the story always seems to be neatly wrapped up within an episode or three or four at most. There does not appear to be any clear story arcs that continue across the whole series, which gives the impression that no matter what crisis emerges, there is certainly it will settled within the 45 minute duration of the show. I guess this is to appeal to an attention-deficit suffering American audience but I feel it emasculates the drama.
One of the episodes I watched, The Warfare of Genghis Khan, was particularly interesting, dealing with the controversial issue of nuclear weapons. As the episode opens, The White House learns of a secret nuclear test undertaken off Indonesia, immediately sparking concerns that a new nuclear power has emerged. All the fingers start pointing to Iran and as the President orders B52 bombers into the air, the tension ratchets up as it appears the United States is sliding into a possible nuclear conflagration. Needless to say all is resolved by the end of the episode although there are some interesting points made about America's decision to take unilateral action, bypassing the United Nations and an incisive questioning of America's moral high ground. As the Israeli Prime Minister pointedly says to President Bartlett, America is the only nation that has used nuclear weapons aggressively against another nation yet it seeks to dictate who else can and cannot have access to these terrible weapons of mass destruction.
This episode by coincidence segued nicely into a debate I heard on The Moral Maze on BBC Radio 4 on Saturday which was debating whether Britain should renew its nuclear deterrent. I am undecided on the issue and I would like to be convinced that the need for nuclear arms is rendered unnecessary since the end of the Cold War. Unfortunately one of the main witnesses arguing against renewal of the deterrent did more to undo her argument than advance it. She prevaricated on most of the direct questions and dodged anything that didn't fit her narrow line that nuclear weapons were bad and therefore we shouldn't have them and that by leading by example other countries would disarm or not seek to obtain nuclear weapons. The latter seems to be hopeless wishful thinking. Morally, I find it difficult to justify why countries like Britain and America should hold a nuclear deterrent, while other countries should not. When it comes to countries like Iran I feel strongly that they should not be allowed to arm themselves with such weapons but what is my justification for arguing that? Is it because I feel that Iran is a dangerous and belligerent country? After all, returning to the point made in The West Wing, the United States is the only country so far to have deployed nuclear weapons offensively. What gives the West the moral majority in deciding these matters and who are we to say what is rational when our governments have acted in the past in ways which are both reprehensible and irrational at the cost of tens of thousands of lives?
Saturday evening I watched one of my favourite films of 2006, The History Boys. It is based on the extremely successful play by Alan Bennett, set at a Grammar school in northern England during the early 80s, although the film was mostly shot around Watford! Its an odd film. On the one level its a comedy, on another it makes some deep and profound statements on homosexuality and the pains of growing up. Its weaknesses are that on occasion it tries to be too clever, the dialogue sounds just like it has come from the mouth of Alan Bennett rather than reflecting the individual characters and it doesn't feel much like it is taking place in the 80s either; it all feels rather fresh and current. At times The History Boys is very funny but never far from a scene of painful sadness and pathos by the bucket load.
Also watched over the weekend and on a completely different note, was The Day of the Triffids, the 1980s BBC adaptation of John Wyndham's novel. I've seen three episodes so far and I am impressed. I didn't think I would be but everything about each episode from the spooky and strange opening titles and music to the inevitable cliff-hanger strikes a perfect tone. The Triffids themselves are menacing and while the special effects budget was clearly limited, they are still effective thanks to some clever camera work. I am looking forward to watching the rest over the coming week.
Finally. I finished the weekend off watching The Trap: Whatever Happened to Our Dreams of Freedom on BBC 2 last night. This was the first of a new three part series from Adam Curtis, who was responsible for the excellent The Power of Nightmares. The Trap is similar in style, with often weird and disturbing images that seem to flash by accompanied by moody music. It has the feeling of some mind control experiment! Difficult to fault is Curtis' measured and authoritative commentary and it is genuinely chilling as he unravels that our modern day concepts of freedom are based on Cold War Game Theory. This is a rather bleak and negative view of human behaviour based on the assumption that everyone acts in their own self-interest. Game Theory is based on the idea of a society solely made up of self-interested individuals with no place for altruism and worryingly it has shaped for example the reforms of the National Health Service during Thatcher's government in the 80s. It was all rather depressing, that our idea of freedom comes from an era or paranoia and mistrust and that rather than being freer we have actually become enslaved to these negative conceptions of human behaviour. Fascinating stuff and will definitely be watching the next two parts.